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In the never-ending search for things "new," a number of the manufacturers exhibiting at the Food Marketing Institute are turning to seasonal specialties. They seek to carve out a different niche to market their new products, introducing them to the trade at the annual extravaganza put on by the supermarket industry for an increasingly international audience.

Most of the ones noted specifically were not just standard products with holiday over-wraps, but special products modified or specifically created for the occasions.

Shasta Beverages for example, announced promotions tied in with the Christmas and Halloween selling seasons, involving both new products and new characters. Creepy Coolers will make their debut in late September. Targeted to children, they feature four non-alcohol flavors, each represented by its own ghoulish "spokesmonster." These include Howlin' Harry Cherry, a reddish-brown, furry monster; Blue Zombie Berry; Green Goon Apple; and Transylvania Twist Punch, a vampire.

Then in November, St. Nick's soda will be introduced under the Shasta and Faygo brands. This will include cola, ginger ale and cranberry flavors in both 2-and 3-liter bottles. As a measure of the success of this whole concept, these are repeats of something started in 1994.

Based on tests in 1994 in which more than 7,000 Christmas Beer sets were sold, the Evansville Brewing Co. is launching the Santa Claus Christmas Collection. This includes Santa Claus Christmas Ale, Christmas Amber and Christmas Porter. In 22-ounce bottles in dated, limited edition packages, these are designed to appeal to bottle collectors and beer connoisseurs, alike.

Priced as a superpremium seasonal product, they yield high margins for bottle wholesalers and retailers. And since it's located in Indiana, Evansville Brewing has created a new Hoosier Beer Division to produce and market specialty brews in the state of Indiana only, beginning with Hoosier Red.

The red lager will be brewed four times a year, once for each season. The label shows an Indiana farm scene that reflects the season of the year for which the beer is brewed, and will be dated to insure a fresh product.

Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss is another seasonal brew, available May through August from the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., a subsidiary of Miller Brewing Co. Brewed with a hint of honey, it has a unique sweetness. The brewer already markets Genuine Bock (spring), Autumn Gold and Winter Lager.

Even the cat litter market will gain some seasonal pizzazz, with a special Halloween Pail for Cat's Pride Scoopable Cat Litter brand from Oil-Dri Corp. of America. The orange 10-pound molded plastic pail will be shipped only in August and September and includes stickers the kids can use to decorate the pail.

The pail can then be used for trick or treating.

And TastyKake seasonal and holiday favorites have been planned for appropriate interest throughout the year. Cupid Kakes for January through Valentine's Day start out the year, followed by St. Patty's Treats mid-February through mid-March and Coconut Kandy Kakes and Bunny Trail Treats for Easter.

Then in late May Sparkle Kakes cover the Fourth of July season followed in late September with Witchy Good Treats as the company's Halloween item. Frosty Kandy Kakes run from November on into February, with a five-week Kringle Kakes item for the holiday season.

Each is available only for a short time during the year, intended to "entice special `impulse purchase power' and more sales from loyal Tastykake lovers," according to the company.

Already deep in the specialty shape pasta market for different seasons of the year, Funfoods has added Gourmet Shamrock Shaped Pasta to help celebrate St. Patrick's Day or for whenever you just want to say: "Good luck." Packaging is in a decorative, reusable 2-liter storage jar, and a 12-ounce bag of Lucky Pasta. Both use a combination of green spinach-flavor and white shamrock-shape pastas.

Also new to the line are Star of David Shapes to commemorate the various Jewish holidays.

Other than a few bakers for green bagels or doughnuts and some brewers going after the Irish market or those that want an excuse to celebrate the occasion, we have not noted many manufacturers taking on the "wearing of the green" as holiday product theme, nor others doing so with Jewish holidays.

But I predict there will be many others joining this "trend wagon," and that minor holidays will receive more attention as festive occasions to promote new sales.

Consider how successfully the greeting card industry has set up a year-round calendar of special card occasions way beyond the major holidays of just Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.M

Mr. McMath is director of the New Products Showcase & Learning Center in Ithaca, N.Y., a business resource of more than 60,000 once-new consumer products.

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